Tonight was the home opener at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, and while it wasn't the cleanest game from either side, the Oklahoma City Thunder Thunder came away with a 103-96 win and gave the Phoenix Suns their first loss of the season. Kevin Durant led the Thunder in scoring with 33 points, and making a quicker-than-expected return to the lineup, Russell Westbrook added 21. For the Suns, they were led by 26 points from Eric Bledsoe and 21 from Gerald Green.
Neither team looked particularly sharp out of the gate, and neither team could claim a significant edge over the other for most of the game. Late in the third and early in the fourth, the Suns had a slight momentum edge with threes falling for them. However, there was nobody more fitting than Russell Westbrook to re-energize the Thunder with great plays on both ends as part of a late 8-0 run. They never trailed after that run, and were able to claim a healthy lead for the rest of the game on the backs of Durant and Westbrook.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Russell Westbrook is back!
He played great, especially in that fourth quarter. His defense was on point, and perhaps even more of a relief was how willing he was to get to the rim and draw fouls. As indicated by the 5-16 shooting line, he was still pretty rusty when it came to getting the ball through the hoop, but he drew 14 free throws and made 11, leading the team in attempts.
After Westbrook's return, it was nice to see this Thunder team bounce back and earn a win after their disappointing outing against the Timberwolves on Friday. There were still plenty of holes, between the Thunder's defense on three-point shooters and their still-inconsistent offense after Durant. For now, it's baby steps for the Thunder as they try to shake some of these early-season cobwebs.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
The difference in this game was the stretch in that fourth quarter when the Thunder finally cleaned up their play and made a run to get ahead. Down 79-73 with 7:45 left in the fourth, the defense clamped down and players got out on the break for shots at the rim for an 8-0 run. Westbrook was the catalyst for a lot of these plays, contesting shots well and making hard drives to the rim. How great was it to see Russell Westbrook speeding down the court for a layup?
Of course, we also have to give credit to Kevin Durant who had a putback slam and a timely three-pointer from the top of the arc to put the Thunder up for good. He had 10 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter. Derek Fisher also had a nice fourth quarter, making some nice plays, including an and-one drive and hustling to save a loose ball at midcourt, to chip in.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
The Suns shot 14-37 (37.8%) from behind the three-point line, which stands in stark contrast to the Thunder's 2-18 (11.1%) mark. The Thunder were content to help one pass away all game long, leaving shooters open. Gerald Green went 5-10 on threes, Channing Frye went 3-8, and even Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker made 2 triples each.
Meanwhile for the Thunder, nobody was able to get it going from behind the arc. Durant knocked down both of the team's triples on five attempts. Reggie Jackson went 0-4. Thabo Sefolosha went 0-3. Westbrook and Jeremy Lamb both went 0-2. That won't cut it. Three-point shooting has been a flaw for the Thunder early in the season and all throughout preseason as well, and this team will have to address it.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
Obviously, Westbrook's back and he's going to only getting better as he re-establishes his comfort level. Expect the scoring and the efficiency to improve quickly. His return also pushes Reggie Jackson to the bench, starting what could end up being a solid campaign for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Tonight, Jackson had 10 points on 5-12 shooting with 5 assists and 4 rebounds. He didn't sink any threes, but he made some nice plays off dribble penetration and shapes up as a nice shot of energy to have available on the bench.
However, this team does have some issues to clear up. Obviously, there's the matter of three-point shooting, both for and against. Perhaps even more concerning than that, however, is just how uncoordinated this team looks. Things will be better with Westbrook back and Jackson able to help out the bench group, but the offense is still relying on its superstars too much. Serge Ibaka is still struggling (9 points on 4-12 shooting tonight), and as productive as guys like Jackson, Fisher and Lamb were off of the bench, they were still relying on Durant and Westbrook more than is ideal. One gets the feeling that what this team needs right now is an easy blowout win to establish a comfort level, and that's not really a good feeling to have.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant (33 points, 10-19 field goal shooting, 11-13 free throw shooting, 10 rebounds, 2 steals)
Thunder Down Under: Reggie Jackson (10 points, 5-12 field goal shooting, 5 assists, 4 rebounds)
Thunder Blunder: Thabo Sefolosha (2 points, 1-5 field goal shooting, 0-3 three-point shooting)
Thunder Plunderer: Eric Bledsoe (26 points, 7-17 field goal shooting, 10-12 free throw shooting, 14 assists, 7 rebounds, 8 turnovers)
Next game: vs. Dallas Mavericks (Nov. 6th) @ 8:30 PM CDT